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U.S. trailer manufacturer uses Chinese know-how

MONON, Ind. - The new VIP MaxCube dry van trailer rolled off the conveyor line to the melodic sound of Chinese tones and chimes echoing through every nook and cranny in the Vanguard National Trailer C...

MAXED OUT: The new VIP MaxCube is Vanguard's latest offering to the market.

MAXED OUT: The new VIP MaxCube is Vanguard's latest offering to the market.

MONON, Ind. – The new VIP MaxCube dry van trailer rolled off the conveyor line to the melodic sound of Chinese tones and chimes echoing through every nook and cranny in the Vanguard National Trailer Corporation plant in Monon, Ind.

For safety reasons, the sophisticated conveyor systems that facilitate the 200 workers in building Vanguard trailers require an alert sound when they begin to move, explained Richard Dessimoz, president and CEO of Vanguard National Trailer Corporation. And because several of Vanguard’s conveyor systems were designed by parent company China International Marine Container Group (CIMC), which is based in Shenzhen, China, the musical forewarnings are all traditional Chinese tunes.

“CIMC manufactures a million and a half intermodal containers each year so they’ve figured out some pretty clever ways to move boxes over these conveyors,” said Dessimoz.

The chimes serve as one of several examples of how Vanguard is working closely with its parent CIMC to capitalize on the strengths of both companies.

“We have a lot of resources available to us and since trailer design is new to the Chinese, we want to use their container building know-how and materials and our trailer design,” said Dessimoz.

Part of the Chinese know-how is using use a pure assembly process when building boxes.

“Manual handling and fabrication always allow variance into the process and by going with a pure assembly process there is not a lot of room for human judgement and this leads to a quality product,” said Dessimoz. After almost one year of producing trailers, Vanguard completes about 26 boxes a day and expects that number to rise when a second shift of workers is added in March, 2005.

“We want to be a part of the move to drag the trailer business into the 21st century which is kind of new for the trailer industry. Trailers are built pretty well the same today as they were years ago but that’s not enough for our industry. Tractors have become very sophisticated over the years and now trailers have to catch up,” said Dessimoz.

The equipment

“CIMC is easily in the top 10 purchasers of steel in the world,” said Kurt Herbst, director of purchasing for Vanguard National. “So it only makes sense to use this to our advantage.”

Eighteen galvanized steel part-kits travel 25 days in a 40-foot container from the port in Shanghai, China to a Western U.S. port and then by train via Chicago to the Indiana plant, said Herbst.

“A typical trailer manufacturer uses about 12 to 13 hours of fabrication time per trailer but we use none. Nor do we have to allot time for painting or extensive undercoating, because so much of our equipment is galvanized,” said Herbst.

The VIP 4000 dry van trailer has an inside width of 100 inches and a 110-inch height, laminated oak flooring, three quarter-inch logistics posts on 16-inch centres, 12-inch corrugated steel scuff liner, extruded aluminum front centre and five posts in the front wall. The trailer body is framed with galvanized steel for durability and corrosion control.Vanguard’s newest addition to the family, the VIP MaxCube, has 101-inch wide interior, with enough extra room for an additional skid to be loaded. It has a proprietary post design, a laminated oak floor, an anti-snag interior and a dymondply plastic lining, a material that was developed exclusively for Vanguard. The VIP MaxCube’s frame is also galvanized, which keeps fleet managers from having to blast and repaint their trailers.

“The galvanized components we have on our equipment leads the industry in anti-corrosion. We want to be the one making the standards,” said Mark Roush, director of engineering for Vanguard National. Standard galvanized parts, many of which are considered options from competitors, include: rear frame and gussets, rear impact guard and adapter, landing gear mounting brackets and cross bracing, one-piece sub-frame, coupler front apron and pick-up plate, mudflap brackets, 22-inch threshold plate, interior post and scuff liner. Either of Vanguard’s models can be manufactured in 53-foot or 48-foot trailer lengths, and customers also have a say about which supplier components they would like built into their trailer. Sixteen-inch versus 24-inch internal panels is another option for customers.

“We have our standards but we can give you what you want. It’s a luxury for the trailer industry because it is more difficult to accommodate this for tractor manufacturing,” said Dessimoz.

Built-in quality

Vanguard has full quality control throughout the entire manufacturing process, said Dessimoz.

“We also water test all the trailers, because a customer would expect a dry van to be dry,” laughed Dessimoz. An internal company control program has also been introduced to Vanguard’s employees – an adaptation of the auto manufacturer’s processes.

“Each worker has been trained and has the ability to accept or reject materials that come in,” said Dessimoz. “The people love it, they like taking on that responsibility and learning more about the work they do and the materials they work with every day.”

The plant currently runs a shift from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, which leaves Fridays for the engineering team and management to work on modifications or automation of processes. This allows for more streamlined and effective manufacturing.

“There are a few limiting factors in regards to time like the fact that we have to wait for the pre-bonding on the roof rails to dry, but that just means that we are building in quality and consistency so I’m happy with that,” said Dessimoz.

The dealers

The Vanguard plan is to rapidly grow a network of trailer and parts dealers across North America. Currently, Vanguard has two Canadian dealers – Bell Trailer Sales based in Winnipeg, Man. and Transit Trailer based in Chatham, Ont.

“We were one of the first dealers they set up last summer,” said Murray Campbell, president of Transit Trailer. “We’ve been in the trailer sales and leasing business for a while and so we know the things that are necessary to build a good trailer and Vanguard addresses all of those things plus more.”

Central hubs, LED lights on their own circuit, dock bumper positioning, 16-inch side posts and the amount of galvanized steel on the trailer are features that piqued Campbell’s interest when looking at the product.

“Sales have been going well. Early in the year is typically slower for most product lines, but we’ve been selling them as they’ve been coming along,” said Campbell.

To contact Campbell at Transit Trailer, call (877) 995-5999. To contact Bell Trailer Sales, call (204)987-8890 and to contact Vanguard National, call (219)253-2000 or visit

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